November 13, 2008

Housing implements eco-friendly practices

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- While Kermit the frog may try to tell us that “It’s not easy being green,” Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s University Housing staff believe that green is the way to go!

University Housing’s philosophy these days is “Learn Green…Live Green!” and that means a variety of eco-friendly changes, according to Crystal K. Bouhl, coordinator of marketing and public information for University Housing. America Recycles Day is Saturday, Nov. 15, and Bouhl said it’s a fitting time to highlight the many new policies and practices their “Green Team” has instituted to be more environmentally friendly.

The dining halls at SIUC have gone tray-less this fall and in so doing, they’ve reduced water usage, food waste, energy consumption and chemical use, according to Peggy Connors, registered dietitian and associate director of University Housing-Residence Hall Dining. Just to show what that really means, take a look at Trueblood Dining Hall, where they serve an average of 1,200 people each day at dinnertime. It takes about a half-gallon of water to wash each tray. On average, about four ounces of wasted food lingered on each tray when diners were done. By eliminating the trays, there are savings of 134,400 gallons of water and 66,000 pounds of food over the course of two semesters -- and that’s just for one of the three dining halls at SIUC. There already has been a 40 percent reduction in food waste, Connors said.

You won’t find plastic bags in the dining express areas anymore either and usage of Styrofoam cups has dropped drastically. This fall, all those living in the residence halls got refillable water bottles and reusable tote bags. Students can now get free fountain beverages using their bottles. This year, the convenience store-type dining areas won’t dispense 287,000 plastic bags. Rather, students are using 4,000 provided tote bags again and again.

University Housing embraced composting in the fall of 2006. The SIUC Vermicomposting Center, a unique facility, has produced 10 tons of vermicompost with pulped waste from University Housing’s Residence Hall Dining. This compost is a great organic fertilizer used at University Farms. Staff is hopeful that by going tray-less, they’ll be able to reduce their pulped waste to the level that the worms can completely consume it and convert it to the compost material.

The Vermicomposting Center isn’t the only example of University Housing partnering with other units of SIUC for the benefit of the environment. The staff at University Farms collects used cooking oil from the dining halls, about 150 gallons weekly, and converts it to biodiesel fuel, which in turn runs the equipment for University Farms. Based on a price of $4.50 per gallon for diesel, utilizing 100 percent biodiesel results in a cost savings of $3.25 per gallon. Moreover, they’re even putting glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel fuel, to good use, too. It’s a food additive in the feed substitute for the dairy herds at SIUC.

There’s also a team effort in place with the College of Agricultural Sciences. University Housing is using fresh produce and livestock produced by the college for its dining halls. Fresh tomatoes this fall, grown with vermicompost produced by worms eating dining hall pulp waste, were a tasty treat for students at the dining halls. During homecoming and on other occasions this school year, pork from University Farms made its way to the dining hall tables in smoked pulled pork sandwiches.

Lentz Dining Hall will be the pilot site for the new “Farm to Fork” program beginning in January. The program’s emphasis is bringing products from University Farms to the table for SIUC students.

“There’s a trend with universities and institutions throughout the country toward being eco-friendly and it’s a trend that’s here to stay. We’re pleased that SIUC’s University Housing is at the forefront with environmental stewardship,” Connors said.

University Housing is leading the way statewide in another area of environmental stewardship too. The facilities staff has also “gone green” by utilizing green cleaning products and methods. It’s beneficial to the environment and student health, and other than minimal costs for start-up, it’s as cheap or cheaper than the old methodology, according to staff.

The Green Cleaning Schools Act requires all K-12 schools in Illinois to utilize environmentally friendly cleaning products and practices. It went into effect in May and now, House Bill 4812, which would invoke similar mandates for institutions of higher learning, is pending. But, SIUC didn’t wait for the legislature to require changes.

Scott Taylor, supervisor of residential custodial operations at SIUC, began researching “green cleaning” when he started in his position a year and a half ago. He found that while costs didn’t increase, the benefits did. He said his supervisor, Glenn Stine, deputy director of University Housing-Facilities, was “100 percent behind efforts to go green. This benefits our students, our University and our future. And, it’s a cost-neutral proposition.”

Taylor worked in conjunction with Jim Sheffer, director of sustainable building care for AmSan, the Illinois university system janitorial supply distributor, to make modifications. University Housing’s new motion-activated paper towel dispensers use 100 percent recycled paper and result in less waste. Cleaning supplies in use are healthy for the environment and the student body and staff, Taylor said. He said there’s less waste, facilities are very clean, and there is less consumption of natural resources while preserving the environment and promoting health. More than 4,500 students reside in University Housing.

“We have made changes and looked at our purchases with consideration given to the health and well-being of our students and our footprint on the environment,” Taylor said.

“Our Green Team is exploring other ideas to move to a more eco-friendly and responsible organization,” Bouhl said. “Our students have begun to contribute ideas to our Green Team too. We plan to continue moving forward in our goal to reduce, reuse and recycle to assure that we help set the example of responsible preservation.”